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Justin James Watt (born March 22, 1989) is an American footballdefensive end for the Houston Texans of the National Football League (NFL). He was drafted by the Texans with the 11th pick in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and played college football at Wisconsin.

Watt received the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award three times in his first five seasons.[1] Although primarily a defensive end, he occasionally shifts to defensive tackle in some situations. He has also taken snaps on offense, catching three touchdown passes during the 2014 season. In 2014, Watt became the first player in NFL history to record two 20+ sack seasons in a career.[2] He holds the Texans' franchise records for both sacks and forced fumbles. In 2017, Sports Illustrated named Watt Sportsperson of the Year.

Early life and high school career[edit]

Watt was born on March 22, 1989, in Waukesha, Wisconsin,[3] to parents Connie, a building operations vice-president, and John Watt, a firefighter. The Watt family has Scottish ancestry.[citation needed] Both of J.J.'s younger brothers are in the NFL as well – Derek Watt is a fullback for the Los Angeles Chargers, and T. J. Watt plays linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Watt played hockey from age four to age 13[4] and played for travel teams that traveled to Canada and Germany. He gave up hockey when weekly games started to conflict with his schedule and for financial reasons.[5] Watt also played football throughout his childhood and became passionate about the sport while he was in fifth grade.[4]

Watt attended Pewaukee High School, where he was a four-year letter-winner in football and also lettered in basketball, baseball, and track and field.[6] During his senior year, he was selected for first-team All-State. He earned the Woodland Conference Player of the Year Award his senior year, and first-team All-State, All-County, All-Area, and All-Conference selections as tight end and defensive end. He was also named the team's MVP.[7] During his senior year, Watt accumulated a total of 399 receiving yards, 26 catches, and 5 touchdowns.[8]

Watt followed in his father's footsteps and competed in the shot put during his senior season, earning first-team All-state selection.[9][10] He captured the state title in the shot put at the 2007 WIAA Division II Championship, setting a new school record with a throw of 59 ft, 11.5 in (18.28 meters).[11]

Recruiting[edit]

Regarded as a two-star recruit by both Rivals.com and Scout.com, Watt was ranked neither among the top tight end nor among the top defensive end prospects in his class. After official visits to Central Michigan, Colorado, and Minnesota, Watt chose to play for Central Michigan under coach Butch Jones.[12]

NameHometownHigh school / collegeHeightWeight40Commit date
J. J. Watt
Defensive End
Pewaukee, WIPewaukee HS6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)220 lb (100 kg)4.70Jan 30, 2007 
Recruiting star ratings:Scout:   Rivals:   247Sports: N/A    ESPN grade: 63
Overall recruiting rankings:Scout: NR   Rivals: NR  ESPN: 172 (DE)
  • Note: In many cases, Scout, Rivals, 247Sports, and ESPN may conflict in their listings of height and weight.
  • In these cases, the average was taken. ESPN grades are on a 100-point scale.

Sources:

College career[edit]

Central Michigan[edit]

Watt received a scholarship offer from Central Michigan University and matriculated there. Watt has stated that he was led to believe by Butch Jones, that as a tight end, he would have the opportunity to score touchdowns. At Central Michigan, he played 14 games, compiling 77 receiving yards and 8 receptions.[13][14] Watt's coaches, led by Butch Jones, suggested that he move to offensive tackle, but Watt decided to forgo his starting spot and scholarship to walk on at the University of Wisconsin, where he played as a defensive end.[15]

Wisconsin[edit]

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Watt was redshirted for the 2008 season and was named Wisconsin’s Scout Team Player of the Year. In 2009, he played in 13 games as defensive end. In a game against Hawaii on December 5, 2009, Watt had a career-high of two sacks for nine yards, three tackles for loss, six tackles, and one quarterback hurry. Watt finished the season with 32 solo tackles, 12 assisted tackles, four and a half sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, and five passes defended.[16] He also earned his first letter. On November 20, 2010, against Michigan, he recorded his first collegiate interception.[17] Overall, in the 2010 season, Watt played in 13 games and led the team in tackles for loss, quarterback hurries, blocked kicks, and forced fumbles. He finished the season with 42 solo tackles, 20 assisted tackles, 21 tackles for loss, seven sacks, one interception for 15 yards, nine passes defended, and three fumbles forced.[18] He earned the Ronnie Lott Trophy in 2010, voted AP and Sports Illustrated second-team All- American, All-Big Ten first-team, academic All-Big Ten, and was voted the team’s MVP.[7]

College statistics[edit]

YearTeamTacklesTFL (yards)Sacks (yards)FR
2009Wisconsin4515.5 (53)4.5 (19)2
2010Wisconsin5921.0 (91)7.0 (56)2
College totals10436.5 (144)11.5 (75)4

Professional career[edit]

HtWtArm lengthHand size40-yard dash10-yd split20-yd split20-ss3-coneVert jumpBroadBPWonderlic
6 ft 5 in
(1.96 m)
290 lb
(132 kg)
34 in
(0.86 m)
11 18 in
(0.28 m)
4.84 s1.64 s2.71 s4.21 s6.88 s37 in
(0.94 m)
10 ft 0 in
(3.05 m)
34 reps31
All values from NFL Combine,[19] Wonderlic score from ProFootballWeekly[20]

Watt skipped his senior season, entering the 2011 NFL Draft. At the 2011 NFL Combine, Watt was a top performer in all combine categories except the 40-yard dash.[21] On April 28, 2011, he was selected in the first round by the Houston Texans with the 11th overall pick.[22] He was the second defensive end to be selected, only behind Aldon Smith, who went seventh overall.[23] The Texans signed Watt to a four-year, $11.24 million contract on July 31, 2011.[24]

2011 season[edit]

In the 2011 season, Watt started all 16 games. In the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts, he had five tackles and a fumble recovery in his NFL debut.[25] On November 27, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he had his first multi-sack game with 2.0 in the 20–13 victory.[26] He finished the season with 48 solo tackles, eight assisted tackles, and five and a half sacks. The Texans qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.[27][28] In the playoffs, Watt recorded 11 solo tackles, three assisted tackles, one interception returned for a touchdown, one pass defended, and four sacks in two games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.[29][30] Watt was named Texans Team Rookie of the Year, USA Today All-Joe Team, and Pro-Football Weekly/PWFA All-Rookie Team.[31]

2012 season[edit]

In 2012, Watt had one of the best seasons for a defensive player in NFL history. Watt finished the season with 69 solo tackles, 12 assisted tackles, 20.5 sacks, 16 passes defended, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. Watt was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month in September and December.[32] On November 22, 2012, in a game against the Detroit Lions, Watt recorded three sacks, to give him a total of 14.5, breaking the Texans' record for sacks in a season, which was previously held by Mario Williams.[33][34] On December 16, against the Indianapolis Colts, he recorded three sacks and ten total tackles in a 29–17 victory.[35] The Texans made the playoffs again in 2012, and Watt recorded six solo tackles, three assisted tackles, two passes defended, two sacks in two games.[36][37][38][39] Watt finished the season 2.5 sacks shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season record for sacks, set in 2001.[40] Watt was named to the 2013 NFL Pro-Bowl Team on December 26, 2012. Watt also was named Texans Team Most Valuable Player, USA Football Fundamentals Team, PFW First-Team All-Pro, Pro Football Weekly/PFWA Most Valuable Player, NFL 101 AFC Defensive Player of the Year, AP First-Team All-Pro, and the AP Defensive Player of the Year.[32] Watt received 49 out of 50 votes for the Defensive Player of the Year award. He is the first Texans player to receive an NFL Player of the Year award.[41] Watt was the 17th defensive lineman and only the eighth defensive end to receive the award since 1971.[42] Watt also made the highest debut on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players list for 2012, coming in at number five.[43]

2013 season[edit]

Watt had a strong season, but the Texans struggled as a whole, in the 2013 season.[44] In Week 2, against the Tennessee Titans, he had his first two sacks of the season in 30–24 win.[45] From Weeks 7–12, he recorded at least one sack in each game.[46][47][48][49][50] Overall, in the 2013 season, Watt recorded 65 solo tackles, 15 assisted tackles, seven passes defended, 10.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.[32][51] The Texans, however, had a losing season and finished with a 2–14 record.[52] Watt was named to the 2014 NFL Pro Bowl and was a Pro Bowl Captain.[32]

2014 season[edit]

Prior to the start of the 2014 season, the Texans and Watt agreed to a six-year contract extension, worth $100 million.[53] Watt received $30.9 million at signing and he will receive $21 million at the start of the 2016 season if he is on the roster. This contract made him the NFL’s highest paid non-quarterback, based on average yearly salary.[54]

In a game against the Oakland Raiders, on September 14, 2014, Watt became the first defensive player in Texans history to score a touchdown from scrimmage. Watt scored the touchdown on a one-yard catch after coming into the game as a tight end.[55][56] Watt scored his second touchdown of the season on September 28, 2014, against the Buffalo Bills. Watt picked off a pass from Buffalo’s E.J. Manuel that was intended for Fred Jackson, and returned 80 yards for the touchdown.[57] With this touchdown, Watt became tied at sixth for the longest interception return by a defensive lineman. Watt’s touchdown was also the fourth longest interception return in Houston Texans history.[58] During the game, Watt hit Manuel nine times, but was flagged twice for roughing the passer. Watt was fined $16,537 for only one of the incidents.[59] Watt was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for September.[60]

In a game against the Indianapolis Colts, on October 9, 2014, Watt forced Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to fumble the ball. Watt recovered the ball and returned 45 yards for the touchdown.[61][62]

For his fourth touchdown of the season, Watt caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Texans quarterback, Ryan Mallett, for Mallett’s first career touchdown pass. Watt recorded 4 solo tackles, one assisted tackle, one sack, one forced fumble, and fumble recovery in the same game, which was on November 16, 2014, against the Cleveland Browns.[63][64]

Watt scored his fifth touchdown on November 30, 2014, catching a one-yard pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Texans quarterback.[65] With this reception, Watt became the first defensive lineman to have scored at least five touchdowns in a season since 1944.[66]

On December 21, Watt recorded his 54th sack as a Texan in a 25–13 win against the Baltimore Ravens.[67] With that sack, he surpassed Mario Williams as the franchise leader in sacks. On December 28, 2014, Watt had a sack for his first career safety against the Jacksonville Jaguars which gave him three sacks on the day[68][69] and 20.5 on the season, becoming the first player in NFL history to have 20 or more sacks in separate seasons.[70] Watt also finished the season with a career-high 5 fumble recoveries and 5 touchdowns.[71]

For his outstanding season, Watt was unanimously named to the 2014 All-Pro First Team as a defensive end and named to the All-Pro second team as a defensive tackle. Watt was also named to the 2015 Pro Bowl where Cris Carter, team captain of Team Carter, selected Watt to be his captain on defense. During the game, Watt recorded a fumble recovery and an interception and after the game was named Defensive MVP. He also won the Defensive Player of the Year award, one of the few to win the award multiple times, and became the first defensive player since 2008 to get votes for the MVP award, receiving 13.[72] After the season, Watt was named to the top spot in the NFL Top 100 Players of 2015.[73]

2015 season[edit]

Despite battling a groin injury and a fractured left hand, Watt started all 16 games in 2015 making 76 tackles, an NFL-leading 17.5 sacks, 8 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. In the regular season finale, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he had a season-high three sacks to go along with eight total tackles.[74] He was named to the 2015 Pro Bowl, which was his fourth consecutive appearance, and also received his third Defensive Player of the Year award, the only player aside from Lawrence Taylor to do so. With the Texans finishing the season 9–7, the team clinched an AFC South division title but were shut out 30-0 by the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card round.[75][76][77] On January 12, 2016, Watt underwent groin surgery for a sports hernia.[78] This forced Watt to withdraw from the 2016 Pro Bowl. This was his fourth straight Pro Bowl honors to go along with his fourth straight first-team All-Pro. He was ranked as the top defensive lineman and the third best player on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2016.[79]

2016 season[edit]

On July 21, 2016, Watt underwent back surgery for a herniated disc. He began training camp on the PUP list, but returned in Week 1 to start the season in a victory over the Chicago Bears.[80][81] In Week 2, he had 1.5 sacks and five total tackles against the Kansas City Chiefs.[82] On September 22, in the game against the New England Patriots, he recorded two assisted tackles in last action of the season.[83] On September 28, 2016, he was placed on injured reserve.[84] The following day, he underwent back surgery again, and was officially ruled out for the rest of the 2016 season after playing three games and recording 1.5 sacks.[85] Even though Watt played in only three games, he was ranked 35th on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2017.[86]

2017 season[edit]

Watt returned from his injury to play in the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.[87] During Week 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football, Watt left the game after an apparent leg injury. It was later revealed that he suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg.[88] He underwent surgery the next day and was ruled out the remainder of the season.[89] In only 5 games, Watt finished with 11 tackles and 2 passes defended.[90]

The 2017 season would be marked by Watt raising upwards of $37 million for relief and recovery efforts for the Houston area. The entire sum was raised through an online drive after donating $100,000 of his own money as the starting base. Watt commented that this season "was always about more than football."[91] Watt was co-named Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year for 2017 for his humanitarian efforts. Watt was named Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.[92]

NFL career statistics[edit]

YearTeamGamesTacklesFumblesInterceptionsOtherReceiving
GPGSCombSoloAstSackFFFRYdsTDIntYdsAvgLngTDPDSFTYdsSftyKBRecTgtsYdsAvgLngTD
2011HOU1616564885.5022000000491801000000
2012HOU161681691220.542700000016236300000000
2013HOU161680651510.54200000007152802000000
2014HOU161678591920.54559118080801101534113341.323
2015HOU161676571917.53100000008173600010000
2016HOU338171.500000000080000000000
2017HOU55151140.000000000020000000000
Career83833792998076.0151268118080114579180143441.323

Awards and highlights[edit]

NFL[edit]

  • 4× Pro Bowl selection (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
  • 4× First-team All-Pro selection (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
  • 3× Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2012, 2014, 2015)
  • 3× Pro Football Writers Association NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2012, 2014, 2015)
  • Sporting News Defensive Player of the Year (2012, 2014, 2015)
  • 3× Pro Football Focus Defensive Player of the Year (2012, 2013, 2014)
  • 3× Pro Football Focus Best Player of the Year (2012, 2013, 2014)
  • 3× Kansas City Committee of 101 AFC Defensive Player of the Year (2012, 2014, 2015)
  • 2× NFL sacks leader (2012, 2015)
  • AP NFL MVP runner-up (2014)
  • Bert Bell Award (2014)
  • Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (2017)
  • Pro Bowl Defensive MVP (2014)
  • Ranked No. 5 in the Top 100 Players of 2013
  • Ranked No. 12 in the Top 100 Players of 2014
  • Ranked No. 1 in the Top 100 Players of 2015
  • Ranked No. 3 in the Top 100 Players of 2016
  • Ranked No. 35 in the Top 100 Players of 2017
  • First player with multiple 20-sack seasons (2012, 2014)
  • 4× PFWA All-NFL Team (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
  • 5× AFC Defensive Player of the Month (Sep. 2012, Dec. 2012, Sep. 2014, Dec. 2014, Nov. 2015)[93]

Houston Texans franchise records[edit]

  • Most career sacks (76.0)
  • Most career forced (15) and recovered fumbles (12)

College[edit]

Personal life[edit]

Watt played ice hockey from age three until he was thirteen years old, traveling as far as Canada and Germany for tournaments. Watt said that he played "primarily as a center and was a goal scorer."[94] Because of the financial cost of the sport and making a choice between hockey and football, Watt stopped playing hockey to focus on football. Watt has joked that he "may or may not" use skating as part of his offseason training.[95]

While an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Watt delivered pizzas for a Pewaukee Pizza Hut.[96]

On July 22, 2015, Watt was named the Vice-President of Power Relations for Reliant. Reliant is a retail electric provider in Texas, also a subsidiary of NRG Energy Inc.[97]

On February 15, 2018, Baylor College of Medicine announced that Watt would receive an honorary degree from their medical school.[98]

He is the older brother of Los Angeles Chargers fullback Derek Watt and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T. J. Watt.

Charitable work[edit]

Watt is the president and founder of the Justin J. Watt Foundation, a charity organization that provides after-school opportunities for children in various communities, in order for them to get involved in athletics in a safe environment. This foundation’s motto, “Dream Big, Work Hard” is sold on wrist bands and T-shirts. Since this foundation was launched in 2010, Watt has raised over $1 million.[99] While most of the schools that benefit from the fundraising are in Texas and Wisconsin, schools in Alabama, Illinois, and California have also received donations. Watt’s mother, Connie, is the vice president of the organization. Watt and the J.J. Watt Foundation host a Charity Classic, Run/Walk, Golf Outing, and Tailgate annually.[100] The Charity Classic is a softball game held at Constellation Field, in Sugar Land, Texas, in which Texans players participate in a game, and Home Run Derby to raise money for the foundation.[101] The inaugural Charity Classic game was in 2013, and the 2014 Charity Classic raised over $436,433 towards his foundation.[102] On August 26, 2014, Watt received the Texans Spirit of the Bull Community Award.[103] On November 14, 2014, Watt was nominated for the NFL’s Salute to Service Award that honors either a coach, player, or owner for their efforts in supporting the country’s service men and women.[104] Due to the extremely good turnout in 2014, the annual Charity Classic has been moved to Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. The 2015 event raised over $640,000. For the 2017 game, Watt invited Arnold Schwarzenegger and swimmer Simone Manuel, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and native of Houston.[105]

Watt is also known for his interactions with children. On July 2, 2011, the Berry family was traveling home from a vacation in Colorado Springs. The parents, Joshua and Robin Berry were killed in a head-on collision while also leaving their two sons, Peter and Aaron handicapped. Their daughter, Willa, suffered minor injuries. Watt met the children at a fundraiser and grew close with them. He played wheelchair basketball with them and pantomimed rolling a wheelchair after sacking a quarterback in a 2012 game. The pantomime was an agreed upon signal between the Berry children and Watt as a post-sack celebration.[106] In 2012, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Watt found out some of the families that were affected were in the Houston area. He invited them out on the field to hang out and throw the football. He then proceeded to give them signed merchandise that he had worn in previous games.[107] In October 2015, he dressed up as Batman to surprise kids at the Texas Children's Hospital for a Halloween party.[108]

He also has raised over $37 million to help Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey, surpassing his initial goal of $200,000.[109]

References[edit]

  1. ^Rosenthal, Gregg. "J.J. Watt wins Defensive Player of the Year award". National Football League. Retrieved February 19, 2015. 
  2. ^Edholm, Eric. "J.J. Watt becomes only two-time 20-sack player, does so on safety". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved July 22, 2015. 
  3. ^"J.J. Watt Stats, News, Video". ESPN. Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  4. ^ abAshley, Schumacher. "My Three Sons: Badger Mom Proud of Watt Brothers On, Off Field". Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  5. ^Pinchevsky, Tal. "NFL star J.J. Watt maintains love for hockey". Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  6. ^"Texans' J.J. Watt has high school jersey retired at Pewaukee (Photos)". 
  7. ^ ab"J.J. Watt Bio". Archived from the original on December 5, 2014. Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  8. ^"J.j. Watt". Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  9. ^Peter King (September 4, 2013). "JJ Watt on how he can improve on one of the greatest defensive seasons ever - The MMQB with Peter King". The MMQB. Retrieved February 23, 2016. 
  10. ^"The life and times of J.J. Watt". Ultimate Texans. Retrieved February 23, 2016. 
  11. ^"WIAA State Championships Div II - Track & Field Meet". Athletic.net. Retrieved February 23, 2016. 
  12. ^"JJ Watt". Rivals.com. Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  13. ^"J.J. Watt Stats". Sports Reference College Football. Archived from the original on December 4, 2014. Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  14. ^"J.J. Watt 2007 Game Log". College Football at Sports-Reference.com. Retrieved 2018-02-18. 
  15. ^Warber, Kyle. "Fire Up Chips Exclusive: JJ Watt sets the record straight". MLive. Booth Newspapers. Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  16. ^"J.J. Watt 2009 Game Log". College Football at Sports-Reference.com. Retrieved 2018-02-18. 
  17. ^"Wisconsin at Michigan Box Score, November 20, 2010". College Football at Sports-Reference.com. Retrieved 2018-02-18. 
  18. ^"J.J. Watt 2010 Game Log". College Football at Sports-Reference.com. Retrieved 2018-02-18. 
  19. ^"NFL Events: Combine Player Profiles - J.J. Watt". National Football League. Retrieved October 9, 2012. 
  20. ^"Combine workout leaders: Wonderlic test". Pro Football Weekly. Retrieved October 18, 2012. 
  21. ^"NFL Events: Player Profile J.J. Watt". Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  22. ^"NFL Prospect J.J. Watt". Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  23. ^"2011 NFL Draft Listing". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2018-02-18. 
  24. ^Robinson, Charles. "Texans star J.J. Watt seeks 'same appreciation' that draft mates received with new contracts". Retrieved November 29, 2014. 
  25. ^"Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans - September 11th, 2011". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2018-02-18. 
  26. ^"Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars - November 27th, 2011". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2018-02-18. 
  27. ^"Houston Texans Team Encyclopedia". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2018-02-18. 
  28. ^"2011 Houston Texans Statistics & Players". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2018-02-18. 
  29. ^"Wild Card - Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans - January 7th, 2012". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2018-02-18. 
  30. ^"Divisional Round - Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens - January 15th, 2012". Pro-Football-Reference.com. Retrieved 2018-02-18. 
  31. ^
Watt after the Badgers vs. Northwestern game in 2010
Watt during the 2014 Pro Bowl
Watt during 2014 Pro Bowl coin toss
CLEVELAND — Joe Haden only needed a few hours to find a team that wanted him.It’s a squad he’s very familiar with.

Goodbye, Cleveland. Hello, Pittsburgh.

Cut earlier in the day by the Browns after seven seasons, the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback signed a three-year, $27 million contract Wednesday with the rival Steelers, who are giving the 28-year-old a chance to exact some revenge on a team that doesn’t think he can play anymore.

Haden passed his physical and he’s now on the other side of a once-heated rivalry that has become utterly lopsided.

The Steelers posted a photo on Twitter of a smiling Haden signing his contract. The sight had to make the stomachs turn of some Browns fans.

In seven seasons with Cleveland, Haden went just 2-12 against the Steelers and his signing will add some luster to this season’s opener when Pittsburgh visits Cleveland on Sept. 10.

Instead of trying to cover Antonio Brown or intercept quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, he’ll be teammates with Big Ben and on a team with a legitimate chance at making the playoffs — or more.

The Browns are still rebuilding and they felt Haden had become too expensive and too injury prone. After failing to find a trade partner — Cleveland remains in search of a wide receiver — or convincing Haden to take a pay cut, they terminated his contract.

Under the five-year, $67.5 million extension he signed with Cleveland in 2014, Haden was due to make $11.1 million this season, $11.2 million next year and $10.4 million in 2019. Releasing Haden cost the Browns $3.2 million in salary cap space this season and next season.

With the Browns, he was always assigned the opponent’s best wide receiver and more than held his own against Brown, Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and others. He’s been slowed by injuries the past two seasons, but as late as Tuesday, Browns coach Hue Jackson was praising Haden’s performance this summer.

“Joe gave everything he had for the Cleveland Browns and that’s all you can ask for as a coach,” Jackson said in a statement. “He was a leader on and off the field. I wish him all the best as he continues his career.”

Haden played in just 18 games — he missed 11 in 2015 with a concussion — the past two seasons because of injuries, fighting to stay on the field each week last season despite a serious groin injury that required offseason surgery.

New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and his staff didn’t view Haden as an asset and will likely move veteran Jason McCourty into his starting spot alongside Jamar Taylor.

A former Florida standout, Haden was one of Cleveland’s most visible players. He often attended Cavaliers games and sat courtside to cheer on LeBron James and his teammates. Haden owned a sneaker store in downtown Cleveland, hosted youth camps in Northeast Ohio and in 2015 became the first professional football player to serve as a Special Olympics global ambassador.

Haden posted a thank you to Cleveland fans on his Instagramaccount.

“I would first like to take the time to thank the Browns fans all around the world from the bottom of my heart for making Cleveland a happy home for me for the past 7 years,” Haden wrote.

“I also want to thank the coaches, the organization and especially my teammates who have become family. My God doesn’t make mistakes and I know the future is bright.”

Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas reached out to Haden via Twitter.

“You will truly be missed my man!” Thomas wrote. “You were always the consummate; teammate, professional, and friend. I wish you much success in the future!!”

Haden appeared in 90 games for the Browns, starting 81. He compiled 376 tackles, 101 passes defensed, 19 interceptions, forced four fumbles and four recovered fumbles. Last season, he recorded 48 tackles, 11 passes defensed and tied for a team high three interceptions.